Sir Douglas Douglas-Hamilton, 14th Duke of Hamilton and 11th Duke of Brandon, lived from 3 February 1903 to 30 March 1973. A member of one of Scotland's leading noble families, he was also a pioneering aviator and was the man who Deputy German Führer Rudolph Hess flew to Scotland to try to negotiate with in May 1941. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
Born in London, Douglas Douglas-Hamilton was the oldest son of Alfred, the 13th Duke of Hamilton and his wife Nina Benita Poore. Douglas was educated at Eton and at Balliol College, Oxford. While at Oxford he represented the University at boxing, and later became the Scottish middleweight amateur boxing champion. While the 13th Duke was alive, Douglas Douglas-Hamilton was given the honarary title of the Marquess of Douglas and Clydesdale. This did not prevent him becoming the Unionist Member of Parliament for East Renfrewshire from 1930 until he succeeded to the title of 14th Duke of Hamilton in 1940. He spent part of 1935 working (as "Mr Hamilton") as a miner down one of the family's coal mines in Lanarkshire.
Douglas-Hamilton became interested in flying at an early age and joined the Royal Auxiliary Air Force (RAuxAF), becoming the youngest Squadron Leader of his day, commanding 602 (City of Glasgow) Squadron from 1927 to 1936. In 1933, Lord Clydesdale, as he was know, flew higher than anyone before him to complete the first flight over Mount Everest, using a bi-plane with an open cockpit. For this feat he received the Air Force Cross in 1935, and in 1936 a book he had jointly written about the expedition, The Pilot's' Book of Everest, was published.
At the outbreak of World War II, Douglas Douglas-Hamilton was given responsibility for the air defence of Northern England and Southern Scottish, and made commander of the Air Training Corps. At this point he was one of four brothers all holding the rank of Squadron Leader or higher in the Royal Air Force.
In 1936, Douglas-Hamilton had flown himself to Berlin to be part of a UK parliamentary group observing the Berlin Olympic Games. While there he met many of the leading Nazis of the day including Hitler, and was given a conducted tour of key Luftwaffe bases by Hermann Göring. He did not meet Deputy German Führer, Rudolph Hess, on his visit, but did meet the man who became Hess's key foreign policy adviser, Albrecht Haushofer.
In September 1940, Albrecht Haushofer wrote to Douglas-Hamilton, proposing that the two meet in neutral Portugal to discuss a possible "German-English agreement" under which Germany would control mainland Europe, and Britain strengthen its grip on its Empire. Douglas-Hamilton agreed with MI5 that he would meet Haushofer, but before he could do so, in May 1941, Rudolph Hess parachuted out of a Luftwaffe aircraft he had flown to Scotland, landing near the hunting lodge and summer retreat of the Hamilton family at Dungavel House in South Lanarkshire.
Conspiracy theorists, at the time and since, have suggested that Douglas-Hamilton and/or MI5 were actively trying to negotiate peace terms with Germany. The response of the government of the day, including Winston Churchill (who would have been deeply unsympathetic to any such efforts) suggests the government approved of what was going on and that the security services were simply following the lead offered by Albrecht Haushofer to see where it led: never for a moment expecting that it might lead to the arrival of Rudolph Hess in wartime Scotland.
In 1940, Douglas-Hamilton became a Privy Counsellor; in 1946 he was awarded the Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order, and in 1951 he became a Knight of the Order of the Thistle. He also collected many other honours and positions in the post-war years, including Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society; Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland from 1953 to 1955 and in 1958; Deputy Governor of the British Linen Bank; directorships of Scottish Aviation Ltd and Securicor Ltd; and more... He was also Chancellor of the University of St Andrews from 1948 until 1973.
In 1937, Douglas Douglas-Hamilton married Lady Elizabeth Ivy Percy, daughter of the Duke of Northumberland, and they had five sons, the oldest of whom, Angus Douglas-Hamilton, became 15th Duke of Hamilton on his father's death in 1973. In 1946 Douglas Douglas-Hamilton purchased Lennoxlove near Haddington as a family home. It remains in the family today and is open to visitors.